This lecture was delivered, by our Archbishop, Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap, for the Constitutional Studies Program at the University of Notre Dame.
I want to thank Dr. Muñoz, Father Jenkins, and the Napa Institute Forum for welcoming me to Notre Dame today – and you, for being here. The fact that anyone would turn out for a talk with the word “dying” in the title, especially on the eve of an SC game, proves that miracles still happen.
I turned 75 a couple of weeks ago and, as Canon Law requires, I offered my resignation to Pope Francis. In the next few months the Holy Father will accept it, and Philadelphia will have a new archbishop.
Philadelphia is a great city, and it’s been one of the great privileges in my life to serve as the pastor of its Catholic people and clergy. So my feelings are understandably mixed. The good news about turning 75 — the very good news — is that I’ll finally be able to retire. The not so good news is what sooner or later comes after it. When you get to be my age, a topic like “things worth dying for” has some special urgency. As one of my Domer friends likes to point out, dying is a downer.
Or that’s one way of looking at it. My own feelings are rather different. My dad was a mortician in a small Kansas town. So in my family, death and all of the complex emotions that surround it, were a natural part of living. To put it another way: The meaning of a sentence becomes clear when we put a period at the end of it. The same applies to life. When we talk about things worth dying for, we’re really talking about the things worth living for; the things that give life meaning. Thinking a little about our mortality puts the world in perspective. It helps us see what matters, and also the foolishness of grasping at things that finally don’t matter. Your hearse, as my father might say, won’t have a luggage rack.
Socrates is often seen as the founder of the Western ethical tradition, and he said that his philosophizing was best understood as a preparation for dying. It sounds like an odd claim, but it makes perfect sense. He had a passion for truth-telling; the wisdom that comes from it; and the life of integrity and moral character that results. The very word, “philosophy,” captures the spirit of his love for truth. It combines philia, the love of friendship, with sophia, which means wisdom. Socrates didn’t “study” wisdom. He pursued it as the goal and framework of his life. He loved it.
Love is demanding. It draws us outside ourselves. The greater the love, the greater our willingness to sacrifice. So when we know, honestly, what we’re willing to sacrifice for, even to die for, we’re able to see the true nature of our loves. And that will tell us who we really are. Continue reading